Barriers to breastfeeding and what we can do about them

In the previous step we talked about many women’s concerns that they will not naturally produce enough breastmilk for their baby. In this article, we’ll explore a number of other barriers to breastfeeding and consider how these barriers may be addressed.

Beyond the perception of ‘low milk supply’, there are many other commonly reported reasons for not initiating, for limiting or ceasing breastfeeding. For example, consider the following statements.

“I really hadn’t thought about breastfeeding as an option before I had my baby. I talked with my mum and assumed I’d do what she had done for me and start my baby from the first days on infant formula.”

image of mother, grandmother, child

We know that many women make decisions during pregnancy about whether to breastfeed or not, and for how long. This highlights the importance of having positive discussions about breastfeeding during pregnancy. This is a role that can be played by friends, family and health professionals.

Beyond social discussions about breastfeeding, parent education both before and after a baby is born is likely to be valuable. Such education can focus on the value of breastmilk, breastfeeding techniques and how to find support when needed.

If you’re pregnant, take the opportunity to attend pre-natal classes that may be on offer in your hospital or community. If you’re already breastfeeding, make sure you talk with your health care provider about maintaining your breastfeeding regimen.

It’s extremely important to provide education on establishing milk supply, which can take around six weeks. Evidence-based advice includes feeding on demand and not offering a dummy or a bottle in these early weeks, and to avoid having formula in the house, ‘just in case.’ See the Raising Children Network for tips and hints.

“I came home from hospital with infant formula provided by the hospital, so I assumed that this was considered to be a healthy choice for my baby.”

image of newborn baby and mother in hospital

The World Health Organization (WHO) International Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes seeks to protect the public from overzealous promotion of breastmilk substitutes, as in some countries it is common to be sent home with free infant formula.

Under the WHO Code, companies marketing breastmilk substitutes are advised (though this is not legally binding) that they should not advertise the superiority of their product over breastmilk, or give out free samples to pregnant women.

The practice of supplying new mothers with infant formula while in hospital varies around the world and from hospital to hospital. This practice potentially undermines a women’s belief that she is capable of producing enough milk to ensure her infant will grow healthfully.

Movements like the Baby Friendly Health Initiative are pivotally important in addressing this issue by promoting a wide range of policies within hospitals that will maximise the opportunities for parents to initiate and maintain breastfeeding.

The Baby Friendly Health Initiative also promotes a range of approaches to ensure the best start to breastfeeding for all women and their babies. This includes providing trained staff to support parents with skin-to-skin contact after birth, bonding between parents and child, and sending mothers home with breastfeeding information (not a bag of formula) along with follow-up care from lactation specialists.

“I feel uncomfortable breastfeeding—it seems that many people in my life don’t really approve of me feeding in public.”

image of mother breastfeeding in cafe

It’s true that many women feel they are not well supported by partners, friends, family and indeed their workplace or the broader community.

It’s also very common for women to experience negative social comment when they breastfeed in public places, and it can be difficult to find somewhere private to feed. Many women report breastfeeding in the toilet to avoid harsh scrutiny. Not surprisingly, these challenges are often given as a reason for stopping breastfeeding or for introducing infant formula.

Your task

We all have views about breastfeeding even if we don’t know it. Join the conversation to discuss your own views on barriers to breastfeeding and what some solutions might be. Some questions to prompt your thinking are:

  • Who or what has influenced your views about breastfeeding your own infant?
  • What are your thoughts about sending new mothers home from the maternity hospital with infant formula?
  • Did you change your mind about wanting to breastfeed during your pregnancy? Why?
  • What were your own expectations about breastfeeding and where did these expectations come from? 
  • Consider a woman who chooses to return to work after having her baby. What can a workplace do to support her to continue breastfeeding?

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This article is from the free online course:

Infant Nutrition: from Breastfeeding to Baby's First Solids

Deakin University

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